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August 31, 2017

Hillman Library Central to Campus Experience

Caroline Brown

Caroline Brown, Hillman Library’s information area manager, said that library staff have been preparing for the year’s busiest — and most fun — season, when students and faculty arrive back on campus. “You get all the undergrads and everybody is excited to start school.”


When freshmen find that not all information is on the internet, Hillman Library front desk staff are ready to guide them – not only through the shelves, but into specialty online collections and databases.

That’s why the University Library System’s (ULS) biggest library remains a vital and busy hub for those seeking help with papers and projects, says Information Area Manager Caroline Brown.

Brown, who’s been in charge of the front desk and student media resources since 2000, says freshmen still show up each year asking, “Where do I go?”

They’re not just asking for directions – they’re asking library staff to help them think through a subject and answer the most important questions.

“How do students get to the best stuff and make the best use of it?” Brown asked. “That’s what we do here. And just because something’s online doesn’t mean you know how to access it or how to use it.” Sometimes students find the best resource while looking for something else in the library stacks.

A Hub for the Entire Campus Community

Hillman Library has always been a student refuge from the noise of college dorms and study halls, Brown explained. “It gives students the space where they can be free from distraction.”

Brown’s front desk staff help students borrow noise-canceling headphones, laptops, iPads and whiteboards as study aids. They connect students to Hillman’s many library specialists, who are experts in particular subject matters. These librarians meet with students directly, and even advise faculty looking to present new materials in their classes.

During the school year, students use Hillman media resources to prepare class presentations. Hillman lends out One Button Video Recording Studios and green screens, which students also use to film themselves acting out theater scenes or practicing a job interview. Brown also oversees Hillman’s Stark Media Services’ film and media collections, used most often by English department faculty and students. It includes film and video equipment, such as microphone booms and lights, used by the department’s mockumentary class and others.

Pitt staff members also use a range of library services. Hillman Library can be a great source for leisure reading and book-club selections, as well as cookbooks and other titles covering staffers’ personal interests. Two of the most popular services among staff members are the audio and e-books available via OverDrive and films and documentaries that may be streamed through Kanopy. Of course, staff members who take advantage of Pitt’s education benefits by taking classes may appreciate the library’s academic resources as well.

With Hillman just beginning its five-year, full-building renovation, Brown noted, “we expect a reinvented Hillman will have all sorts of new spaces and services that support digital creation; more places to work, study and collaborate; and better infrastructure.”

“There’s Always Something Different”

Fall is Hillman’s busiest season, starting in the second week of August, when international students begin to arrive at Pitt, followed by freshmen the third week. “That first four to six weeks of the fall term is just nonstop,” said Brown. “You get all the undergrads and everybody is excited to start school.”

Hillman staff will conduct more than 75 visits to freshman classes, offering introductory library instruction to 1,400 first-year students in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The University Library System also conducts specialized library instruction for specific departments and schools, from studio arts to the Swanson School of Engineering, as well as sessions on citation management and on presenting data via maps.

Front desk personnel field phone calls and conduct online chats to answer research questions, too – sometimes even from outside Pitt, when people are looking for information on alumni or the city of Pittsburgh in general. On football weekends during the fall term, students seek obscure sports facts.

By the spring term, front desk traffic slows as students are more familiar with the library. But it grows again each April, in preparation for finals. “It’s fun because there’s always something different,” Brown said. “You never get the same question twice.”

In the meantime, though, Brown and her staff are eager for this fall’s freshman rush.

What makes these staff members special, she said, is curiosity. “We’re not just going to answer a question and be done with it. We want to know as much as you do.”


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 1

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